‘Smile and Dial’ – Why Building Genuine Reporter Relationships Is Crucial for PR Professionals

It’s true that with the ever-changing media landscape, the public relations industry has had to evolve and adapt accordingly. Innovative, new digital strategies are integral to any successful communications campaign, but the value of traditional PR and media relations (or smile-and-dial as it’s sometimes referred to) can’t be discounted. In these times, the fourth estate’s ability to drive and frame news narratives is more essential than ever, and we have the ability to be a part of this influence.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of building relationships with reporters across different sectors and publication types. With shrinking newsrooms, the increased pressure to get more clicks and eyeballs on stories, and the unforgiving churn of the 24/7 news cycle, the job of a reporter is more difficult than ever.

Public relations professionals now outnumber journalists 6-1, so how do we as PR practitioners break through the noise (including the 1,000 emails a reporter gets inundated with daily in their inbox)?

A few tips:

  • Pick up the phone. While it’s tempting to rely on email when reaching out to reporters, I can’t stress enough the importance of picking up the phone and calling. Chances are, they probably didn’t see your email among the mountain of email pitches they received that day, and via the phone, you get the opportunity to establish rapport and really sell them on the story.
  • Connect IRL. The more reporters you can meet and talk to in person, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask them for coffee – especially when they’re in a new role or are covering a new beat and are quickly trying to establish their sources. Remember, you have something very important to them to offer them: clients who can potentially be valuable, ongoing sources.
  • Be selective. The number one annoyance reporters have when it comes to PR folks? When it’s clear we haven’t done our homework, which means reporters getting pitched stories that they find irrelevant (and us losing our credibility with them). It’s easy to want to pitch as many reporters as we can – but it’s about quality over quantity. Follow them on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about, and make sure you’re reading their latest articles.
  • Be speedy. Remember – reporters are constantly on deadline. The more you can appreciate this and work similarly, the better, including being hyper-responsive with setting up interviews, offering a new angle, providing statements, etc.


At the end of the day, establishing good relationships with reporters can boil down to the basics of human interactions, including event invitations, checking in regularly even when you don’t have a story, showing interest in new career developments, etc. Ultimately, PR people who do it right have reporters coming back to them asking for sources.

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